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  • Writer's pictureFr. Scott Haynes

Death Comes for the Rich and the Poor Alike

Fr. Scott A. Haynes

The prayers of the Requiem Mass, which may be offered for each of the faithful departed, have endured through the centuries. They are part of our spiritual inheritance as Roman Catholics, a repository of grace we must treasure. As children of God, schooled at the feet of Holy Mother Church, we must meditate upon these texts to mine their riches.

The sacred texts we find in the Requiem Mass are pregnant with Scriptural references and theological meaning. Like Our Lady who pondered Christ's words in her heart, we need to consider the profundity of the Requiem Mass, because, through the prayers of the Sacred Liturgy, our minds will be formed after the mind of Christ.

Consider, for example, what can be learned from this excerpt from the Preface of the Requiem Mass, these graced words which Holy Mother Church places on the lips of the priest:
Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord. In him, who rose from the dead, our hope of resurrection dawned. The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality. Lord, for your faithful people, life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven…[1]
These words call us to great hope in Our Lord, assuring us that while our earthly lives come to an end, an eternal life has begun, that we might share in the "bright promise of immortality." If we had no faith in Jesus, no belief in the “life of the world to come,” we would have no cause for hope, but as St. Paul teaches:
By hope we were saved. [2]
While we take great hope in Christ's victory over the grave, nonetheless, we do weep and mourn for our loved ones who have passed. Our Lord, as Scripture records, wept at the death of Lazarus. The Mother of God wept when she laid her sweet Child and Savior in the Tomb. But all these tears, these natural expressions of our human emotion are not tears of hopelessness. Nor should ours be.

In the Nicene Creed that we say each Sunday, we profess our faith, stating:
I believe in the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the Resurrection of the body and Life Everlasting.
We must put that statement of faith into practice, as we kneel before the Altar praying for our beloved dead. As Catholics, we profess our belief in the Communion of the Saints. God has placed all the baptized into the spiritual family that is our Holy Mother the Church. [3] And as we stand at the foot of the Cross, we imitate St. John the Beloved and look to the Virgin Mother Mary our Mother to pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

In the Requiem funeral Mass that is offered for each Catholic upon their death, we go once more to the foot of the Cross. We fall on our knees and beg our Lady’s intercession for our brother, that he may quickly come to see God face to face in the heavenly beatific vision surrounded by the Blessed Mother, St. John and all the saints. And so while we remember our brother in Christ, the best thing we can do is to pray for him. We should especially take care to have the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered for him, not only his funeral Mass, but many Masses besides.

I said that today we profess our belief in the forgiveness of sins. Indeed, each time we humbly confess our sins in the Sacrament of Confession, we show our belief in Christ’s power to loose and bind, a power he has shared with the Church through Peter and his apostles and priests.

As Catholics we know the power and mercy of God in this great sacrament of mercy and forgiveness. What a great blessing the Catholic Priesthood is for all the members of the Church as we await our judgment before the throne of almighty God. To prepare for that judgment, Catholics follow the command of Christ recorded in St. Mark’s Gospel,
Go, show thyself to the priest. [4]
Coming with humble heart before a simple priest who is there as Christ’s personal representative, we who are prodigal sons and daughters, confess our sins. We express our sorrow for the sins we have committed, and by the mercy of God, we are again at peace with Christ and His Bride, the Church.

Catholics who want to die in the good graces of Christ and the Church always try to make a good confession before they die. But, in receiving the last rites of the Church, they also long to receive the Sacrament of Extreme Unction (Anointing).
At Baptism, we are consecrated to God. We become temples of the Holy Spirit. All our senses are awaked to a world of spiritual realities so we might be drawn ever deeper into the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the inner life of God. Our eyes are opened so that we might see the TruthJesus Christ. Our ears are opened that we might hear the saving words of the Gospel. Our lips are opened that we might sing God's praises and speak words of love to one another. Our hands are made holy unto God, so that we might be the hands of Christ in service for others. [5] Even our feet are consecrated, so that we might "walk in His ways at all times." [6]

In Confirmation, we are, in a sense, commissioned to be the soldiers of Christ, anointed with an oil of strength, an oil making us fit for battle with our enemy Satan. But, if we have had the misfortune to commit mortal sin [7] during the course of our lives, we need sacramental confession to be healed by God's mercy. [8] Through the Anointing in Extreme Unction, we come before the Lord as soldiers who have been wounded in battle.

We have been wounded through our senses, because we have sinned through our senses. We have sinned through our eyes and ears; we have offended God through our mouth; by our own hands we have sinned; even by our feet we have sinned, when have traversed into wicked places. Therefore, our Holy Mother, the Church, uses the great Sacrament of Anointing to heal our senses and consecrate them to God anew, so that we be again made fit to enter God’s holy kingdom. In the book of our lives, the Sacrament of Extreme Unction (Anointing) is the best final chapter we could ever write. Because, in the story of our life, the last pages are the most important. On the last page we sing, if you will, a final chord. Will it be discordant, out of tune with God, or will it be harmonious and resonate in the courts of heaven? Thanks be to God, that by this holy Sacrament of Anointing, that last chord is a harmonious one. The beautiful triad of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost is the only chord heard in the soul of the man who has made his peace with Christ and His Church. The sour and discordant notes of sin that we may have sung in our lives are silenced by the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, and Christ, through his holy priests, bring about the restoration of the pure and innocent harmony of soul that was established in our souls on the day of our Baptism. After Confession and Anointing, it is a great grace to receive the Viaticum, the last Holy Communion which is heavenly food for a heavenly journey (via).
When one of Christ's faithful, near death, is not conscious or cannot swallow the Holy Communion, the dying soul should make a spiritual communion, [9] expressing her desire to receive Jesus in an intense way in her heart.
A very important conclusion to the last rites of the Church is the Apostolic Pardon of the Holy Father which any priest can administer when death is imminent. When we go to Confession, our sins are forgiven, and the eternal punishment of hell is taken away. The absolution we receive in the Sacrament of Confession demonstrates God's Divine Mercy. But just as God is merciful and tender with us, Divine Justice must also be satisfied. [10] But there is some temporal punishment that remains. This demonstrates that God is merciful in forgiving sins but that he is also just in giving us these little punishments, the way a parent will forgive a child who did something wrong but imposes a little punishment for their good. But at our last agony, the Church, in her tender love for us, wants to help us by forgiving even the temporal punishment we have and so Holy Mother Church grants the Apostolic Pardon, [11] which is meant to restore our Baptismal innocence. [12]
Death comes for the rich and the poor, for saints and for sinners, and so St. Paul tells us that we must be “sober and watchful” [13] in this life, for we all will be called before Our Lord and judged on how we have loved God and how we have loved our neighbor.

If we want to show our love for our beloved dead, who have died in Christ, we ought to continue our relationship with them spiritually praying Rosaries for them, and especially having many Masses offered for their blessed repose. This is the same advice St Monica gave to her son St Augustine before she died, when she begged him:
“Son, wherever you are, remember me at the Altar of the Lord.”
In the funeral rites of the Church, we fulfill two of the works of mercy. It is a spiritual work of mercy to pray for the dead. At the wake, we pray and mourn our beloved dead, and console one another in our faith in Jesus Christ. Pre-eminently in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we offer expiation for the sins of the departed. The second work of mercy we perform in our Catholic funeral rites is to bury the dead, which is a corporal work of mercy. As we let them go, we give them to God, and recall these words from the Book of Wisdom:
But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. [14]
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.

[1] Vere dignum et justum est, aequum et salutare, nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere: Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, aeterne Deus, per Christum Dominum nostrum. In quo nobis spes beatae resurrectionis effulsit: ut quos contristat certa moriendi conditio, eosdem consoletur futurae immortalitatis promissio. Tuis enim fidelibus, Domine, vita mutatur, non tollitur: et dissolute terrestris hujus incolatus domo, aeterna in caelis habitation comparatur. Et ideo cum Angelis et Archangelis, cum Thronis et Dominationibus, cumque omnia militia caelestis exercitus, hymnum gloriae tuae canimus, sine fine dicentes: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus...
[2] Romans 8:24.

[3] Christ's Mystical Body, the Church, exists on this earth. Because we struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil, we are known as the "Church Militant." Those souls who are being purified for eternal life in Heaven as they go through Purgatory are known as the "Church Suffering." And those souls who share in the Beatific Vision of God in the glory of heaven are the "Church Triumphant." The Communion of Saints is that family of God which is Christ's Mystical Body.

[4] Luke 17:14.

[5] The Lord teaches us that we are to use our hands to do good to the stranger and the fatherless and the widow, and to bless all that are within our gates. We are to imitate the generosity of God, that "the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the works of thy hands that thou shalt do" (Deuteronomy 14:29).

[6] Deuteronomy 19:9.

[7] In the Epistle of St. James we behold the Apostle's stern warning regarding sin: "And whosoever shall keep the whole law, but offend in one point, is become guilty of all. For He that said, 'Thou shalt not commit adultery,' said also, 'Thou shalt not kill.' Now if thou do not commit adultery, but shalt kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law." We learn a good distinction between two types of sin in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: [1855] "Mortal Sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God… by preferring an inferior good to him. Venial sin allows charity to subsist, though it offends and wounds it." [1861] The Catechism goes on to explain that mortal sin results in "the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell." The Catechism describes venial sin accordingly: [1862] "One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or complete consent." Because venial sin weakens charity and merits temporal punishment, the Catechism teaches: [1863] "Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However, venial sin does not break the covenant with God. With God’s grace, it is humanly reparable. “Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently, eternal happiness.”

[8] The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "Those who approach the Sacrament of Penance [Confession] obtain pardon from God's mercy for the offense committed against Him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion." [1422]

[9] St. Thomas Aquinas once defined a Spiritual Communion as “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament [in Communion at Mass] and in lovingly embracing Him as if we had actually received Him.” St. Alphonsus Liguori composed this beautiful prayer for spiritual communion: "My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen."

[10] The Catechism teaches: "Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must 'make satisfaction for' or 'expiate' his sins. This satisfaction is also called 'penance. The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent's personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all. They allow us to become co-heirs with the risen Christ, "provided we suffer with Him. [1459-1460] The Council of Trent teaches: "The satisfaction that we make for our sins, however, is not so much ours as though it were not done through Jesus Christ. We who can do nothing ourselves, as if just by ourselves, can do all things with the cooperation of 'Him who strengthens' us. Thus man has nothing of which to boast, but all our boasting is in Christ . . . in whom we make satisfaction by bringing forth 'fruits that befit repentance.' These fruits have their efficacy from Him, by Him they are offered to the Father, and through Him they are accepted by the Father." [Council of Trent (1551): DS 1691].

[11] In English, the text of the Apostolic Pardon the priest traditionally says is as follows: "May our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave to His blessed apostle Peter the power of binding and loosing, mercifully accept your confession and restore your baptismal innocence. And I, by the power given to me by the Holy See, grant you a plenary indulgence and remission of all sins; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. By the sacred mysteries of mankind’s restoration may almighty God remit for you the punishment of the present life and of the life to come, and may He open to you the gates of Paradise and admit you to everlasting happiness."

[12] In the "Book of Indulgences" (Indulgentiarum Doctrina), the Church grants the faithful who do not have access to a priest at time of death an exceptional grace: "To the faithful in danger of death who cannot be assisted by a priest to bring them the sacraments and impart the apostolic blessing with its attendant plenary indulgence (according to canon 468, para. 2 of the Code of Canon Law) Holy Mother Church nevertheless grants a plenary indulgence to be acquired at the point of death, provided they are properly disposed and have been in the habit of reciting some prayers during their lifetime. To use a crucifix or cross in connection with the acquisition of this plenary indulgence is a laudable practice. This plenary indulgence at the point of death can be acquired by the faithful even if they have already obtained another plenary indulgence on the same day" [Indulgentiarum Doctrina, no. 18]. Pia Mater Ecclesia, si haberi nequit sacerdos qui christifideli in vitae discrimen adducto sacramenta et benedictionem apostolicam cum adiuncta indulgentia plenaria, de qua in can. 468, § 2 C.I.C., administret, benigne eidem, rite disposito, concedit indulgentiam plenariam in articulo mortis acquirendam, dummodo ipse durante vita habitualiter aliquas preces fuderit. Ad hanc indulgentiam plenariam acquirendam laudabiliter adhibetur crucifixus vel crux. Eandem indulgentiam plenariam in articulo mortis christifidelis consequi poterit, etiamsi eodem die aliam indulgentiam plenariam iam acquisiverit.

[13] 1 Peter 5:8.

[14] Wisdom 3:1-9.


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